While most were heading home for spring vacation, a group of 24 students set off to Snowball Plantation in Stockton-on-the-Forest for the two-day York Award Team and Leadership Development course. Designed with the aim of understanding the dynamics of how teams work, and how to develop and practice leadership, the course offered a practical, engaging opportunity to develop skills through activity-based learning.
Led by Careers Advisor, Vicky Barton and Online Training Manager, Chris Millson, the course was supported by external tutors from MTa Learning: Director and Facilitator, Jamie Thompson, and Experiential Learning Advisor, Alex Greenwood. MTa design, supply and facilitate innovative learning activities and training resources. As specialists in experiential learning solutions, Jamie and Alex
offered expert guidance (and added healthy competition!) throughout the course.
With a programme of activities to complete over the two days, students were assigned a team and team tutor, and after a quick icebreaker the four teams were set their first task.
Using certain components, teams had to create a structure with a very specific purpose, with interesting results. Participants were encouraged to think about the need for planning and teamwork, a common theme throughout the day’s challenges. Many of the activities, both indoor and outdoor, highlighted the importance of clear and effective communication and collaboration, allowing students to develop skills essential to succeed in various aspects of a work environment, from problem solving to meeting deadlines.
Evaluation sessions following each activity provided the opportunity for personal and group reflection of achievements, and review of areas for development for the second day. To add a competitive element – and with chocolate prizes up for grabs – teams were awarded points based on how successfully they completed each challenge. The end of the first day saw team one, facilitated by Careers’ Chris, already pulling ahead of the competition, and students were keen to return and give Chris’ team a run for its money (or in this case, chocolate).
After an early start, day two kicked off with a short session examining Belbin’s theories on team roles. Thinking about their strengths and weaknesses, the day’s activities placed emphasis on developing a wide range of individual skills and how to successfully implement these within a team. Broken up by regular tea and biscuit breaks (that proved to be extremely popular with the tutors in particular!), day two saw five further activities take place that focused on both leadership and teamwork, as well as how to maintain a good balance between the two.
Task briefings were often deliberately ambiguous to promote problem solving; teams were encouraged to think outside of the box. One activity, the Tower– in which participants had limited equipment and time constraints – placed unusual restrictions on how teams could use certain components, creating challenging obstacles for teams that they needed to approach with an open mind.
The course concluded with team presentations, as participants reflected on the skills they had set out to achieve and whether their initial goals had been accomplished through the course. One student noted, “In my culture compliance is the norm; I’m usually quite quiet and shy in groups. This course has shown me that I can be brave, and I’ve realised that it’s good to speak out when I have ideas.”
Despite all of the challenges posed from the course, the experiential and evaluative approach meant that teams unanimously agreed by the end that they now felt better equipped for group work tasks. All students (bar one who made a hasty exit before final presentations to become a dad for the first time!) finished the course having had a great couple of days. Team tutors showed off their competitive streaks in the final push for points, and although Chris’ team were crowned the winners, no one went home empty handed, with all teams winning prizes for communication skills.
Team tutor of the runners up, Alex, described the experience as “a fantastic ‘hands on’ learning opportunity for students to develop skills needed in ‘real life’ work situations. Plus all the biscuits you can eat!”
Team and Leadership Development aims to run again next year, so keep an eye out for information, and check out the York Award courses page for more opportunities!